DRAPER — As the Corner Canyon football team prepared for Friday’s 5A state championship game, one of the school’s teachers asked them to play for more than themselves.
It will be a small gesture, but one that illustrates the camaraderie that prep athletes share, regardless of the uniform they wear. With the addition of three letters to the back of their helmets — PHS —– the Chargers will represent two communities.
“I thought it was a really awesome idea,” said senior linebacker Caden Johnson, of the decision to wear PHS to represent Paradise High School, which had to forfeit its spot in the playoffs after a wildfire destroyed the entire town, displacing families to other cities and states. “It’s extra motivation to play for a team that doesn’t get to play their game.”
Johnson said he listened to family and consumer sciences teacher Charri “Mama J” Jensen, explain what happened in California and how the students lost everything in the fires, including the chance to play in the state playoffs.
“It would be devastating to have that opportunity taken away,” Johnson said. “I’m sure they worked hard, just like us, and now they don’t get to have that opportunity.”
Jensen said she was searching for a way for her students to reach out to those students who lost everything, including their ability to go to school, in the California wildfires.
That’s when she happened on a story that detailed how Paradise High School’s football team had to forfeit its place in the state tournament because the town was destroyed and the students fled to other towns and states with their families.
“I thought that was so sad,” said Jensen, who has many of the Chargers football players in her classes and club. “I know how hard our boys worked to get to the tournament.”
So she talked with Chargers head coach Eric Kjar, then she reached out to the Paradise head coach Rick Prinz through an email.
“I told them, we’re thinking about you,” she said. “We want to dedicate this game to you.”
Jensen attended the team’s pre-game dinner Thursday night and told them about the school and what wearing the letters might mean.
“I think it’s good to think outside ourselves,” she said. “We talked about how if they get down or discouraged, then think about these boys. They are fighting a much bigger battle than we will at the state tournament.”
Kjar said he loved the idea, especially how his players received it as Jensen talked about the school.
“It was kind of cool to watch their faces as (Jensen) was talking to them,” Kjar said. “It’d be brutal (to have to forfeit). So much time an effort goes into this.”Comment on this story
Jensen said many of the Paradise players were at the school preparing for Friday’s game when they were evacuated. The fire, which began on Thursday, led to evacuations by 8:30 a.m. the next morning.
The state originally offered to let the school accept a bye the first week and play in the second round.
“The coach said he looked at it and said he had players as far away as Oregon,” she said. “They don’t have homes, they don’t have anything. There was no way they were going to be able to play. … There is not a lot we can do. We just wanted to let them know we’re thinking of them.”